Call it fate or pure coincidence.
No matter which you choose, it’s pretty remarkable that the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning met just two weeks after pulling off one of the biggest trades of the season.
It’s a move that will be debated for years to come.
Should the Hawks have parted ways with do-it-all forward Brandon Hagel, whose empty-netter with 22 seconds remaining sealed host Tampa Bay’s 5-2 victory Friday?
Did the Lightning give up too much for someone who was shooting a ridiculous 22.3%? The Hawks’ haul consisted of forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk, as well as a pair of first-round draft picks. (The Hawks did send two fourth-rounders back to the Lightning).
In the long run, Hawks figures to come out ahead. After all, players taken in the first round have the potential to become integral parts of a team for 8-10 years. Meanwhile, Raddysh (2 goals, 3 assists in eight contests) has settled in nicely and looks to have real staying power.
The Lightning hope Hagel can provide depth scoring and a heavy dose of tenacious defense. He’s off to a slow start, with just 2 goals in seven games while averaging barely more than 12 minutes.
That’s not a surprise when one considers the mental strain that comes with being traded.
Remember how tough it was for Antoine Vermette when he came to the Hawks at the deadline in 2015? The veteran, with more than 800 NHL games under his belt, was scratched not once, not twice, but three times by coach Joel Quenneville in the postseason.
Of course, Vermette then notched 2 of the biggest goals in the Stanley Cup Final as the Hawks eliminated the Lightning in six games.
Also, don’t forget that Hagel — unlike Vermette — is not a rental for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have the 23-year-old under contract for two more seasons at the bargain-basement price of $1.5 million, which is important to a title-contending squad dealing with salary-cap issues.
So maybe it’ll be a win-win for everyone.
As for Friday’s game, the Hawks (24-35-10) fell behind 2-0 after 10-plus minutes, but they bounced back with goals by Calvin de Haan (3) and Alex DeBrincat (39). De Haan scored for the second time in three games after managing just 5 goals in his previous 254 contests.
The Lightning (43-18-6) regained the lead on a pair of second-period tallies by Ross Colton. Hagel almost converted on two glorious chances in the third period, then notched his 23rd goal into the empty net by outracing Dylan Strome to the puck.
“I was ready to run out on the ice and tackle him myself. You could see it coming,” Hawks coach Derek King told reporters. “Good for him. I’m happy for him. Obviously we miss a guy like that, but happy for him that he’s on a team like this.
“He might have a chance to win a Stanley Cup.”
Goalie Kevin Lankinen, under heavy fire all night, finished with 38 saves.
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy improved to 13-0-0 against the Hawks.
Seth Jones, who played a season-high 31 minutes, 58 seconds, notched his 41st assist on DeBrincat’s goal to tie a career high.
The Hawks begin a five-game homestand against Arizona on Sunday and will have a pregame ceremony to honor Jonathan Toews, who played in his 1,000th NHL game during a 4-0 loss to Florida on Thursday.